The First Hijrah
Persecution by the Quraish grew fiercer every day and the sufferings of the Prophet’s disciples became unbearable. He had heard of the righteousness, tolerance, and hospitality of the neighboring Christian king of Abyssinia. He recommended such of his companions who were without protection to seek refuge in the kingdom of that pious king, Al Najashi (Negus). Some fifteen of the unprotected adherents of Islam promptly availed themselves of the advice and sailed to Abyssinia. Here they met with a very kind reception from the Negus. This is called the first hijrah (migration) in the history of Islam and occurred in the fifth year of the Prophet Muhammad’s mission, A.D. 615. These emigrants were soon followed by many of their fellow sufferers, until the number reached eighty-three men and eighteen women.
The Quraish Fail to Get the Emigrants Back
The hostile Quraish, furious at the escape of their victims, sent deputies to the king of Abyssinia to request him to deliver up the refugees, that they might be put to death for adjuring their old religion and embracing a new one. The king summoned the poor fugitives and inquired of them what was the religion which they had adopted in preference to their old faith. Jafar, son of Abu Talib and brother of Ali, acted as spokesman for the exiles.
He spoke thus: “0 king, we were plunged in the depth of ignorance and barbarism, we adored idols, we lived in unchastity, we ate dead bodies, and we spoke abominations, we disregarded every feeling of humanity and sense of duty towards our neighbors, and we knew no law but that of the strong, when Allah raised among us a man, of whose birth, truthfulness, honesty, and purity we were aware. He called us to profess the Unity of Allah and taught us to associate nothing with Him; he forbade us the worship of idols and enjoined us to speak the truth, to be faithful to our trusts, to be merciful, and to regard the rights of neighbors; he forbade us to speak evil of the worship of Allah and not to return to the worship of idols of wood and stone and to abstain from evil, to offer prayers, to give alms, to observe the fast. We have believed in him, we have accepted his teachings and his injunctions to worship Allah alone and to associate nothing with Him. Hence our people have persecuted us, trying to make us forego the worship of Allah and return to the worship of idols of wood and stone and other abominations. They have tortured us and injured us until, finding no safety among them, we have come to your kingdom trusting you will give us protection against their persecution.”
After hearing the above speech, the hospitable king ordered the deputies to return to their people in safety and not to interfere with their fugitives. Thus the emigrants passed the period of exile in peace and comfort.
Muhammad Continues Preaching to the Quraish
While the followers of the Prophet sought safety in foreign lands against the persecution of their people, he continued his warnings to the Quraish more strenuously than ever. Again they came to him with offers of riches and honor, which he firmly and utterly refused. But they mocked at him and urged him for miracles to prove his mission. He used to answer: “Allah has not sent me to work wonders; He has sent me to preach to you.”
Thus disclaiming all power of wonder-working, the Prophet ever rested the truth of his divine mission upon his wise teachings. He addressed himself to the inner consciousness of man, to his common sense and to his own better judgment. Say (0 Muhammad): ‘lam only a human being like you. It is inspired in me that your Ilah (God) is One Ilah (God – Allah), therefore take the Straight Path to Him (with true Faith – Islamic Monotheism) and obedience to Him, and seek forgiveness of Him. And woe to Al-Mushrikeen: polytheists, pagans, idolaters, and disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah etc., those who worship others along with Allah or set up rivals or partners to Allah etc.. Surah 41: 6
Muhammad is Asked for a Sign
Despite all the exhortations of the Prophet, the Quraish persisted in asking him for a sign. They insisted that unless some sign be sent down to him from his Lord, they would not believe. The disbelievers used to ask: “Why has Muhammad not been sent with miracles like previous prophets?” The Prophet replied: “Because miracles had proved inadequate to convince. Noah was sent with signs, and with what effect? Where was the lost tribe of Thamud? They had refused to receive the preaching of the Prophet Salih, unless he showed them a sign and caused the rock to bring forth a living camel. He did what they asked. In scorn they cut the camel’s feet and then, daring the prophet to fulfill his threats of judgment, were found dead in their beds the next morning, stricken by the angel of the Lord.”
There are some seventeen places in the Qur’an, in which the Prophet Muhammad is challenged to work a sign, and he answers them all to the same or similar effect: Allah has the power of working miracles, and had not been believed; there were greater miracles in nature than any which could be wrought outside of it; and the Quran itself was a great, everlasting miracle. The Qur’an, the Prophet used to assert to the disbelievers, is a book of blessings which is a warning for the whole world; it is a complete guidance and explains everything necessary; it is a reminder of what is imprinted on human nature and is free from every discrepancy and from error and falsehood. It is a book of true guidance and a light to all.
The Bedouins Become Muslims
When the Prophet spoke reproachfully of the sacred gods of the Quraish, the latter redoubled their persecution. But the Prophet, nevertheless, continued his preaching undaunted by the hostility of his enemies or by their bitter persecution of him. And despite all opposition and increased persecution, the new faith gained ground. The national fair at Okadh near Mecca attracted many desert Bedouins and trading citizens of distant towns. These people listened to the teachings of the Prophet, to his admonitions, and to his denunciations of their sacred idols and of their superstitions. They carried back all that they had heard to their distant homes, and thus the advent of the Prophet was made known to almost all parts of the peninsula.
The Quraish Address Abu Talib
As to the sacred idols, so much honored and esteemed by the pagan Arabs, the Prophet openly recited: They are but names which you have named – you and your fathers – for which Allah has sent down no authority. Surah 53: 23
The Meccans were more than ever furious at the Prophet’s increasing preaching against their religion. They asked his uncle, Abu Talib, to stop him, but he could not do anything. At length, as the Prophet persisted in his ardent denunciations against their ungodliness and impiety, they turned him out from the Kaba where he used to sit to preach, and subsequently went in a body to Abu Talib. They urged the venerable chief to prevent his nephew from abusing their gods any longer or uttering any ill words against their ancestors. They warned Abu Talib that if he would not do that, he would be excluded from the communion of his people and driven to side with Muhammad; the matter would then be settled by fight until one of the two parties was exterminated.
Abu Talib Asks the Tribes to Protect Muhammad
Abu Talib neither wished to separate himself from his people, nor forsake his nephew for the idolaters to revenge themselves upon. He spoke to the Prophet very softly and begged him to abandon his affair. To this suggestion the Prophet firmly replied: “0 my uncle, if they placed the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left hand to cause me to renounce my task, verily I would not desist therefrom until Allah made manifest His cause or I perished in the attempt.” The Prophet, overcome by the thought that his uncle and protector was willing to desert him, turned to depart. But Abu Talib called him loudly to come back, and he came. “Say whatever you please; for by the Lord I shall not desert you ever.”
The Quraish again attempted in vain to cause Abu Talib to abandon his nephew. The venerable chief declared his intention to protect his nephew against any menace or violence. He appealed to the sense of honor of the two families of the Bani Hashim and the Bani Muttalib, both families being kinsmen of the Prophet, to protect their member from falling victim to the hatred of rival parties. All the members of the two families nobly responded to the appeal of Abu Talib except Abu Lahab, one of the Prophet’s uncles, who took part with the persecutors.
Umar Adopts Islam
During this period, ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattab adopted Islam. In him the new faith gained a valuable adherent and an important factor in the future development and propagation of Islam.
Hitherto he had been a violent opposer of the Prophet and a bitter enemy of Islam. His conversion is said to have been worked by the miraculous effect on his mind of a surah of the Qur’an which his sister was reading in her house, where he had gone with the intention of killing her for adopting Islam. Thus the party of the Prophet had been strengthened by the conversion of his uncle Hamza, a man of great valor and merit; and of Abu Bakr and Umar, both men of great energy and reputation. The Muslims now ventured to perform their devotions in public.
The Quraish Split into Two Parties
Alarmed at the bold part which the Prophet and his followers were now able to assume, and roused by the return of the deputies from Abyssinia and the announcement of their unsuccessful mission, the Quraish determined to check by a decisive blow any further progress of Islam. Towards this end, in the seventh year of the mission, they made a solemn covenant against the descendants of Hashim and Muttalib, engaging themselves to contract no marriage with any of them and to have no communication with them. Upon this, the Quraish became divided into two factions, and the two families of Hashim and Muttalib all repaired to Abu Talib as their chief. Abu Lahab, the Prophet’s uncle, however, out of his inveterate hatred of his nephew and his doctrine, went over to the opposite party, whose chief was Abu Sufyan Ibn Harb, of the family of Umayya. The persecuted party, Muslims as well as idolaters, betook themselves to a defile on the eastern skirts of Mecca. They lived in this defensive position for three years. The provisions which they had carried with them were soon exhausted. Probably they would have entirely perished but for the sympathy and occasional help received from less bigoted compatriots.